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European Ocean Days 2024: INSPIRE Contributes to the Discussion on How to Restore Our Ocean and Waters by 2030

INSPIRE at “Restore our Ocean and Waters by 2030” Forum
INSPIRE at “Restore our Ocean and Waters by 2030” Forum

INSPIRE coordination, as well as several other project partners, participated in a week full of events during the European Ocean Days 2024, organised by the European Union, in Brussels, in March.

Organised for the first time in 2024, the European Ocean Days were a week of events related to European maritime topics and organized around the 2nd Annual Mission “Restore our Ocean and Waters by 2030” Forum. These events were held in different venues in Brussels from 4th to 8th of March. Apart from the presence of VLIZ, partners from VITO, Noria, CIIMAR, HCMR and CNR also attended one or more of these events.

For INSPIRE, the week started on Monday morning with the participation of Gert Everaert, the project coordinator, in the Mission Ocean project’s coordinators meeting, as the INSPIRE project is one of the “Mission Restore our Ocean and Waters” Charter Actions since October 2023.

“It was good to meet other Mission Ocean project coordinators, meet each other in break-out groups and report back in a direct way on the strengths and weaknesses of the Mission approach to the responsible DGs [EU Directorates-General]”, said Gert Everaert.

Still on Monday, in the afternoon, a matchmaking side event was held at the Sparks building in Brussels, which was an opportunity to network with EU Mission projects, philanthropists and Charter signatories. The programme included short presentations by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), MSC Foundation and Coral Research & Development Accelerator Platform (CORDAP). The rest of the afternoon and evening was focused on bilateral meetings between the invited participants, promoting grounds for future cooperation.

“The matchmaking side event was an opportunity to not only find intersections between other Mission projects and INSPIRE but also complementarities and synergies. In INSPIRE, we do not focus on recycling, but it is a desirable outcome for the plastic waste that we remove from the rivers and riverbanks. During the matchmaking event, I met a researcher who is developing new recycling processes optimized for more aged (partially degraded) plastic, which is often a barrier for recycling plastic collected from the environment. This is an opportunity to collaborate with another project with clear added value to our project and to advance in improved solutions for plastic pollution but also to promote a circular economy”, commented Mariana Miranda, INSPIRE/VLIZ researcher.

On Tuesday, the 2nd Mission Annual Forum took place in the Sparks building in Brussels, with the possibility to attend online. This day was filled with discussions on how Mission Ocean and Waters aligns with several EU programs and projects, and what strategies can be applied to restore freshwater and marine ecosystems and fighting pollution. At the end, the participants had the chance to test their knowledge in “The moment of truth” quiz. Kęstutis Sadauskas (DG Maritime Affairs and Fisheries) and John Bell (DG Research and Innovation) both attended and participated in the discussions.

Gert Everaert contributed to the discussions in the panel “Preventing and eliminating pollution” in which he discussed with Katrina Sichel (event moderator), Francesca Portincasa (Acquedotto Pugliese SpA) and Piia Leskinen (EMPEREST project) about how we are implementing zero pollution solutions for plastic with INSPIRE and for other contaminants such as PFAS.

“The INSPIRE project is dedicated to finding, testing, replicating and upscaling solutions to reduce and eliminate plastics from rivers, estuaries, ports, and coastal waters and, as such, directly contributes to the Mission objectives. The solutions tested span different methodologies going from detection of plastic to collection and prevention actions. An FSTP [Financial Support for Third Parties] call will open soon, so Associated Regions can contribute to the masterplan we will develop”, said Gert Everaert during his intervention.

Gert Everaert (INSPIRE) at “Restore our Ocean and Waters by 2030” Forum
Gert Everaert (INSPIRE) at “Restore our Ocean and Waters by 2030” Forum

“During the Forum, we became more aware of products and protocols developed in the overarching CSAs [Coordination and Support Actions] and about the goals and achievements of other Mission projects, which was very helpful. During the week, we interacted with local and public authorities interested in the FSTP scheme of INSPIRE, to replicate and upscale our solutions, using the lessons learnt during the first years of the project”, – Gert Everaert.

On Wednesday, it was the moment to ask ‘Where next for Europe’s Seas?’ with the goal to explore the future priorities for Europe’s Seas. During this event, the policy needs were taken into the equation “What, in this wider, evolving future landscape, might be the pathways for Europe’s Seas, with a perspective to 2050?”, but also the wider global, economic, technological, and social transformations that are occurring within Europe and beyond.

In the afternoon, the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) met with signatories of the Mission Charter, including INSPIRE project coordinator. At the European Parliament, the MEPs heard directly from the charter signatories about the ongoing actions to protect and restore the health of our marine and freshwater ecosystems, but also what are the needs and opportunities that we identify.

“More than 500 charters have been signed now, and the community keeps on growing. It became clear that the EU Parliament embraces the Mission, having a positive perception. I heard the willingness to pursue the effort. With increased efforts in visibility and activities happening at local level with local stakeholders, the Mission project will become a success,” Gert Everaert.

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